Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Churches Need Discernment in Such a Time as This


When James Goll spoke to us at our online conference (here, via HSRM) he said this. "Be led. Not pushed." That is, be led by the Holy Spirit, and not pushed or pressured by the surrounding culture. I love that! This is about discernment.

One thing the followers of Jesus need during the pandemic and economic crisis is discernmentThe church leadership question is, "God, what are you saying to us?" 

To answer this question requires much time spent in God's presence, with the Scriptures. If this doesn't happen, as an ongoing practice, you can forget hearing from God. 

“Discernment” is a fruit of an abiding prayer life. To "discern" is different from to "decide."

Ruth Haley Barton writes that some pastors have the...

 "vague sense that our approach to decision making should be different from secular models—particularly when we are leading a church or an organization with a spiritual purpose. The problem is that we’re not quite sure what that difference is. In the absence of a clear consensus, that difference often gets reduced to an obligatory devotional (often viewed as irrelevant to the business portion of the meeting) or the perfunctory prayers that bookend the meeting. Sometimes even these well-meaning attempts at a spiritual focus get lost in the shuffle!" (Barton, Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups, Kindle Locations 180-185)

The difference is: God. God's presence. God, doing the leading. God, doing the building. Because unless God builds the house, we are laboring in vain.

What's needed today, in this storm, is discernment

"Discernment," writes Barton, "in a most general sense, is the capacity to recognize and respond to the presence and the activity of God—both in the ordinary moments and in the larger decisions of our lives. The apostle Paul says that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we can discern what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2). This includes not only the mind of each individual but also the corporate mind." (Ib., Kindle Locations 186-189)

What's needed today, in churches, is mind-renewing transformation. Pastors and church leaders must be living in the rivers of constant spiritual formation and transformation, in order to discern what the will of God is. This is what the whole "church" thing is about. Barton writes:

"It is hard to imagine that spiritual leadership could be about anything but seeking to know and do the will of God, and yet many leadership groups do not have this as their clear mandate and reason for existence. This raises a serious question: If we are not pursuing the will of God together in fairly intentional ways, what are we doing? Our own will? What seems best according to our own thinking and planning? That which is merely strategic or expedient or good for the ego?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 201-205)

The more familiar or intimate we are with someone, the more we are able to discern their heart. The more time spent in close dialogue, the more we recognize their voice. The less familiarity, the less discernment. Spiritual discernment is in direct proportion to our intimacy with God.

Don't focus on trying to make things happen. Focus on intimacy, closeness, with God. In that atmosphere, discernment comes. 

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God

Leading the Presence-Driven Church

I am writing...

Deconstructing Progressive Christianity

How God Changes the Human Heart

Linda and I then hope to co-write our book on Relationships